Donation to PAC too large, says complaint

Not true, says the chairwoman of the PAC, which attacked House candidate Bill Heller in an ad - it's issue-oriented, not candidate-oriented.

Published September 2, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - A St. Petersburg graphic designer filed a campaign finance complaint Friday with the Florida Elections Commission against a political action committee that produced an ad attacking House District 52 candidate Bill Heller.

Maureen Eppley, who produces campaign mailers, signs and e-mail campaigns for Heller and other candidates, filed the complaint against the Pinellas Democrats PAC, its chairwoman, Adrien Helm, and treasurer, Jim Donelon.

Eppley raised questions about a $5,000 contribution the PAC received on Aug. 23 from Frank Lupo, a retired New York City schoolteacher who joined the Pinellas Democratic Party in January. Lupo could not be reached for comment.

Eppley's complaint cites a Florida statute, "which states that 'no person ... may, in any election, make contributions in excess of $500 ... to any political committee supporting or opposing one or more candidates.' "

The Pinellas Democrats PAC sent out a letter supporting a slate of candidates and an ad attacking Heller, who is running against Liz McCallum in the Democratic primary Tuesday. The ads caught the attention of the Florida Democratic Party, which asked Helm's group to stop using the word "Democrats" in its name.

"I've worked on several campaigns and I just thought that was blatant, especially attacking fellow Democrats," said Eppley, 30, referring to the attack ad. "I'm actually an independent, but I thought that was ugly."

Anyone who violates the contribution law can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

Helm, 52, a lawyer, said the $5,000 contribution did not violate election law because issue-oriented PACS can receive unlimited contributions.

"I think that's subject to legal interpretation," she said. "This is an issues PAC, and it's permitted to make statements about the candidates as it relates to the issues."

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the state Division of Elections, said the law does say PACs that support candidates must abide by the $500 contribution limit. But the Florida Elections Commission would have to determine if the PAC was candidate-oriented or issue-oriented, he said.